A Buddhist Sensibility | Book Talk with Dominique Townsend and Stacey Van Vleet
This event will take place online via Zoom. Registration is required here
Dominique Townsend, Assistant Professor of Buddhist Studies at Bard College and Stacey Van Vleet, Assistant Professor of History at UC Berkeley
Stacey Van Vleet will join Dominique Townsend to discuss Townsend’s latest book, A Buddhist Sensibility.
A Buddhist Sensibility generates a novel perspective on Tibetan Buddhist history by focusing on aesthetics—encompassing the fields of music, visual arts, poetry, dance, and even the olfactory sense through incense production. Through the case study of this monastic history, Townsend argues that the Buddhist engagement with and cultivation of the senses connects the spheres of religion and the secular.
Mindröling monastery’s founders were Tibetan aristocrats renowned for their Buddhist and worldly expertise and distinctive sensibility. Their reputation attracted laypeople to study the arts and sciences at Mindröling, in preparation for careers as politicians and bureaucrats. At the same time, Mindröling was a haven for Buddhist renunciants and a stage for large-scale public ritual performances designed to solidify the early modern Tibetan polity under the Fifth Dalai Lama. The founders of Mindröling developed a particularly Tibetan Buddhist mode of cosmopolitanism, enabling them to create a complex institution that occupied apparently paradoxical positions vis-à-vis Buddhist cultural production and renunciation at a formative historical moment.
Townsend draws evidence from diverse Tibetan literary genres, including monastic histories, letters, biographies, poetry, and curricula. As she interprets and contextualizes these texts, she poses questions about the senses, materiality, and worldly engagements to develop a cultural history of early modern Tibet. The book invites scholars and students to recognize aesthetics as an essential aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. It also offers non-specialists an alternative to reductive perspectives on Tibet and Buddhism that tend to assume Buddhists wholly reject materiality and worldly life.
Dominique Townsend is Assistant Professor of Buddhist Studies at Bard College. She is the author of A Buddhist Sensibility: Aesthetic Education at Tibet’s Mindröling Monastery (Columbia University Press, 2021). In addition to her academic work, she is also the author of a collection of poems, The Weather & Our Tempers (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013), and a children’s book about Buddhism, Shantideva: How to Wake Up a Hero (Wisdom Publications, 2015). Her research interests include Tibetan Buddhist aesthetics, poetics, and translation.
Presented by the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion and co-sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Department of History.